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Encounter

There's more to writing
Reflection on meeting an author

By Zohreh Khazai-Ghahremani
November 24, 2003
The Iranian

Every time I meet a celebrity, the thrill is overwhelming. But nothing can match what I feel when meeting an accomplished writer. I had such an experience last week.

I heard that Shahrnush Parsipur had moved to Rhode Island to lecture at Brown University. I knew about her, but not nearly enough. Many years ago, when access to Persian literature used to be more difficult, I had bought a couple of her books. Through the years the storylines faded from my memory and I neglected to put her name on my "to read" list. Now my trip to Providence--to visit my daughter--could provide a chance to meet her. "After all," I thought, "there are not too many Iranians there, and she may enjoy seeing another fellow countryman."

When I asked my daughter, she said, "Sure, Mom. She sounds really cool and I, too, have wanted to meet her. Her one translated book--which I have read--is one of my all time favorites."

I took the old Parsipur books down from the shelf to be dusted and reviewed. I looked her up and extended an invitation. It all went well. We would meet a few days after my arrival. She was gracious enough to agree to join us for dinner after her long day of work.

I bought a copy of her translated book "Women Without Men" and began reading just to realize I could not put it down. A feminist advocate and a skillful writer, her interwoven tales of five women took me in. Her unique surrealist style creates characters that only Salvador Dali could paint and her fluent writing-translated by Kamran Talatoff- gives five Persian women a voice to represent many others, thus providing a universal theme.

It had been years since I enjoyed a book as much as this. Pain, told with her unique touch of humor, provides an angle to the stories of women in Iran, and indeed around the world; a subject close to the author's heart.

Here I was, having semi-educated myself on Parsipurism while getting ready for the big meeting with a prominent writer.

"What should I wear?" I asked my daughter.

"Mom, I don't think she cares!" was her response.

"Oh, but I am a Persian woman. It's important to make a good first impression."

We both made sure we took a copy of her book with us to be autographed.

At last the evening comes and I meet a prominent writer: Shahrnush Parsipur. An activist whose life has been dedicated to women's rights, freedom of expression, research, teaching and, yes, writing stands before me. She is dressed casually in a T-shirt and warm suit, wears no makeup and brushes her short hair back with her fingers. She appreciates our hospitality while it is obvious she does not care for the fancy restaurant and misses the Greek café she knows. She is humble, yet accommodating and, if she could, she would have loved to stop me from feeling so small.

I see the pain of past experiences in her eyes, yet she is fun to be around. She is tired from her long day, yet manages to extend the evening in order to chat with my daughter and provide her with a list of translated works of Persian literature. She signs our copies of her book while adding a kind remark. Before I know it the evening is over and I must say goodbye to someone whose modesty would have let me pass her by on the street without a second glance. I felt priviledged to know her.

Before saying goodbye I told her, "It is so true when we say in Persian 'A tree bows when weighted down with an abundance of fruit'. I can not believe how down-to-earth you are!"

"Selling a few books doesn't make me bigger than you."

"You are too modest."

"No, I'm actually dead against modesty. Modesty is why the world knows nothing about Persian arts."

All evening I had been conscious of how she knew so much more than I ever would. It was good to for once find her in the wrong and realize that I knew something she did not: Her books do make her bigger than most and her art--despite the modesty--will not be un-known to the world.

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